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Friday, April 26, 2024

Pacific Heights 1990 * * * 1/2 Stars


Making you think twice before skipping the background check, forking over the room keys, and taking in a complete dirt ball who doesn't bother to pay rent, 1990's Pacific Heights is a dusky, thriller drama that relentlessly works as a veridical, living nightmare. "I don't think you'll have a problem". Really? Oh think again Batman, think again.

Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox and directed by the dude that made Midnight Cowboy and Marathon Man (the late John Schlesinger), Pacific Heights has antagonist Carter Hayes (played with pure remorselessness by Michael Keaton) sliming his way into occupying an apartment from pushover, renter couple Drake Goodman and Patty Palmer (the rattled Matthew Modine and the more tranquil Melanie Griffith). 

Yeah it's all pretty vexing as Carter makes Patty and Drake's lives a living purgatory. I mean we're talking cockroaches and loud hammering and drilling and creepy guests and harmful nail guns oh my! Oh and Carter hasn't given Patty or Drake one cent as he readily plans to swindle them yuppie-style. What a bag and in '90, who knew Keaton could flex and easily turn on the nasty. Even when he's not screen (which is surprisingly often), you just feel his guise anyway. "This is my business, and I'm very good at it". Um, settle down Batman, just settle down. 

Filmed mostly in San Francisco, CA, with tenebrous hues, a sense of hinged confinement, and a knack for giving its protagonist characters the worst of misfortune, Pacific Heights lets director Schlesinger turn up the damaging, psychological screws with a little noir, a little barbarity, and a whole lot of squalid exploitation. Hans Zimmer's forewarning musical score, a slight Brian De Palma mocking, and camera framing that's a little Fatal Attraction-esque just make the flick even more of an effective, retro watch. "Pacific high". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer 2024 * 1/2 Stars


Netflix is at it again. With 2024's Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer, it's another comedy special, with another cocksure comedian I've never heard of, doing an hour or so of unfunny shtick on stage. Yeah good old Netflix really needs to chill (pun intended) with this material. Let these nearly droll comics do some dogged one-night stands at Zanies instead. For reals.

Anyway "Natural Born Killer" clocks in at 59 minutes, with Jimmy Carr telling joke after joke after joke, all with some sort of ill at ease, sexual connotation involved. Director Brian Klein, well he films Carr from different camera angles, using the occasional colored flood lighting and obvious spotlight lighting (obviously). 

Now did I laugh or chuckle? Not really. Carr seems enthusiastic, informative, and deadpan on all things naughty. But his delivery, accent, and Gumby-like appearance here come off as rather forced, cringey, and well, pretentious. Jimmy, why the need to pause after telling a pun to get laugh approval from your crowd? And why the need to not move your torso one iota during the entire duration of your performance? And um, what's with the wearing of the 3 piece suit dude? This is a comedy show not Huey Lewis and the News coming up to accept a freaking Grammy. Yeesh!

Fixed music awards and borderline crickets aside, Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer doesn't do Carr a whole lot of justice. Instead of "killing" the audience with his so-called, iconic abilities as a funnyman, Jimmy Carr appears more like the poor man's Ricky Gervais, hosting an X-Rated version of the Golden Globes and bombing like the empty half pints at an Irish pub. The audience participation in "Natural Born Killer", well that's just a sad, filthy little bonus. Natural born killer of the "mood" is more like it. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Against the Ice 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


2022's Against the Ice is one of those cold weather movies, where you watch it from the comfort of your own home with a covering and a cup of hot, steaming cocoa. "Ice's" story, well it takes place in Greenland circa 1910, a country I thought no one in the world inhabited. You've got two guys (Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen played unrecognizably by Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Joe Cole as Iver Iversen), two against nature, trying to find a cairn over a 2000-plus-mile trek via some frozen tundra. "You never think you can't make it". Uh-huh, sure.

So yeah, why does Against the Ice not get into your central nervous system and stay there, like say survival dramas a la The Grey, Adrift, and/or '93's Alive. That's a good question, and I think only "Ice's" helmer (Peter Flinth) knows the real answer (I don't plan on emailing him in the near future). 

I mean why do the Mikkelsen and Iversen characters have beards that don't change their appearance over the span of being stranded for 2-plus years? And why does it appear that they haven't lost any weight despite food rationing and whatnot? And um, how come these dudes never froze to death for not lighting a fire occasionally in an autonomous territory with an average winter temp of -4 degrees Fahrenheit? 

Yeah I get it, Against the Ice is based on true events but come on filmmakers, make said true events stick a little. Mentally Ejnar Mikkelson and Iver Iversen are spent. Physically they seem fine, well maybe they just need a trip to the spa (har har). 

Resort treatments and dippy behaviors aside, Flinth's deft direction, numbing camera movement, and icy atmospherics nearly cut through "Ice's" shortcomings of a couple of explorers that seem Herculean and well, immune to hypothermia and good old sepsis. Turn your brain off at the door and you'll at least be able to handle one viewing. Lean "against".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis is not so much a documentary as it is an elongated wiki page entry, a solid, elongated wiki page entry. "Squaring the Circle", well it's about an art design group from London that created album covers for famous rock artists. I mean we're talking Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Paul McCartney and Wings, the list goes on and on. "All that work has stood the test of time". Oh fo sho.

Directed by a dude known for music videos (Anton Corbijn) and filmed slightly in monochrome (that's black and white photography), Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis is shot chronologically yet at the same time, doesn't have a middle, beginning, or end. I mean you could watch this thing from any point, absorbed by how two art helmers (Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell) came up with legendary album sleeves that mostly didn't have anything to do with the bands or their catchy tunes.

"Squaring the Circle", yeah it's fascinating stuff, an earthy docu that warms you internally like soup. Don't think of it as a movie but a sort of incessant showcase. Case in point: why is a cow on the cover of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother? Why was The Nice's Elegy shot in the middle of the desert with red footballs scattered? And why does Zep's Houses of the Holy have a bunch of albino children hanging out at Giant's Causeway.

Like the stirring illustrations of Hipgnosis, there's no real structure here for "Squaring the Circle". Take it as you will. It's filmed decently however, mixing archives with interviews from Powell and Thorgerson as well as rock gods like David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel, and Robert Plant (to name a few). But it also plays out like the title of Floyd's 2014 entry The Endless River, myriad, profusion-like, and without peroration. Vinyl obsessives won't care either way. Repeating "circle".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 14, 2024

What Jennifer Did 2024 * 1/2 Stars


Few documentaries plainly ape TV shows like Dateline and/or 48 hours but here we are with 2024's What Jennifer Did. I mean when the opening few scenes have someone saying "my name is so-and-so and I'm the lead investigator in the case of so-and-so", well it's clear that What Jennifer Did's filmmakers didn't want to come with any novelty. And when said lead investigator also says "I was awoken in the middle of the night just as I was about to fall asleep", well the normality of hackneyed gumshoes just rears its ugly head. "It doesn't make sense". Um, yeah it does. It makes perfect sense. 

So yeah, what exactly was it that Jennifer did? Well real-life Jennifer Pan was an accomplice to murdering her own parents in Markham, Ontario, spurned on by a crocodile-teared 911 call, a lovesick disposition, and lousy interviewing skills (she really should have had her lawyer present). Like I said, What Jennifer Did is like a mediocre version of Dateline, lacking the tension, integrity, and nerve-ending mystery that that show has been giving us as a thirty-plus year fixture on the almighty boob tube. What's worse is that "Jennifer's" director (Jenny Popplewell) laces her film with rather sham cinematography, sham-like confabs, and some cheesy reenactments of stuff like murder rap newscasts and/or interrogation clips (like we wouldn't notice). I mean it's almost as if the true story events in What Jennifer Did didn't actually go down (but hey, you knew they did). 

Distributed by Netflix (what isn't) and clocking in at 87 minutes (gee that feels like the runtime of a certain episode of a certain crime streamer), What Jennifer Did is not so much a docu as it is a declared-in-advance malfeasance caper with a muted conclusion. "Did" more harm than good? Oh you betcha. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Inventing David Geffen 2012 * * * 1/2 Stars


2012's Inventing David Geffen is an epic documentary, a garish mosaic, a celebration of life for a guy who's well, still alive today. Geffen (the film's subject obviously) is the GOAT of entrepreneurs, the Forest Gump of spanning entertainment. I mean he's everywhere and as that 1994 vehicle told us, is good at all things entity. "I have no talent, except for being able to recognize it in others." In David's case, a net worth of $8 billion dollars says that's okay. 

Directed by the woman that made the excellent docu about Steven Spielberg (titled Spielberg, naturally) and distributed by Direct Cinema Limited, Inventing David Geffen probes the vast accomplishments of Geffen's foray into being a record executive, a producer of comedies, a talent agent, and a film company founder. 

Helmer Susan Lacy, well she gives "Inventing" the feeling of being rich, textured, non-biased, and objective. She thinks in cuts, and although Inventing David Geffen might be a little long-winded at 115 minutes, most of its editing goes down as smooth as cold ice tea on a summer's day. "The art of the deal was his stage". You rock on David! Rock on!

Consisting mostly of archive footage spanning decades and interviews from mainly David Geffen himself (he seems so laid-back and congenial with his audience), Inventing David Geffen provides positive vibes and a little light ribbing from Davie boy's long-standing buds (Neil Young, Tom Hanks, and Cher to name a few). 

Geffen, well he never graduated from college, never learned to play an instrument, and never took a class on the art of cinema. Whatever. The Eagles, Elton John, Tom Cruise, and Grammy winner Clive Davis would tell you it doesn't matter. They've gotten rich off his observant ideals. Inventing David Geffen basically ignores the idea of being denied the American dream and kicks it where the sun don't shine. "Pioneer" well-pointed. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Runaway 1984 * * * 1/2 Stars


Giving you the feeling that there's the occasional Velveeta plastered on the screen, Runaway is a vehicle that may appear hokey and chi-chi to some but ahead of its time for others (like myself). Hey, just grab a beer, a Hot Pocket, and some ZA because it's movie night, microwaved 80s style. Runaway, well it has never been heralded as a cult classic but you know what, it should be. For reals.

Distributed by TriStar Pictures in its first year of operation (1984) and directed by ER monger Michael Crichton who saw the future although mildly dated, and ran with it, Runaway is about malfunctioning, threatening automatons, guided missile bullets with names attached, and spider-like robots who kill people by injecting them with acid (yikes). Did you get all that cause there's more. You have Kiss rocker Gene Simmons as the evil Dr. Charles Luther, acting recluse Cynthia Rhodes as Officer Karen Thompson, and Tom Selleck playing new-fashioned Sergeant Jack Ramsey. Their perfect casting and mano-a-mano interplay in Runaway gel emphatically. "Clean, simple, and neat." Not entirely mustache man but I like your style.

So yeah, Runaway hangs in a kind of kooky, sci-fi world where AI is almost more pertinent and/or favoring than the everyday plights of the living. And as you watch it, you sort of realize that the filmmakers take the flick more seriously than any perceptive audience member viewing it. Oh well. Runaway is entertaining as all get-out, with a sprightly pace, a foreboding vein, and a musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith that will surely haunt any sensitive person's dreams. Crichton, well he combines action and the ultramodern to create a rather starry-eyed version of crawler, cops and robbers. His Runaway may not be as avant-garde as say Blade Runner but what is. Effectively "riderless". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Arthur the King 2024 * * * Stars


2024's Arthur the King is yet another told tale about a man and his dog (or would-be dog). In other words, it's star Mark Wahlberg doing what he said in a recent interview, which is only concentrating on family-friendly flicks, made probably for his own FAM. I mean some of his recent stuff I could do without (Me Time, The Family Plan, really?) but Arthur the King is a keeper, a tear-wringer that kind of wrings true (literally). "We keep going. That makes all the difference." Yeah you tell 'em Marky Mark. 

Now do I think "King's" non-fiction plot thread about adventure racing over 400 miles in cruddy terrain is plausible in terms of its character's superhuman actions? Not exactly but I guess it did happen. Maybe the truth was uh, you know, inclined (no pun intended). And did a Border Collie mutt really follow real-life Micheal Light (Mark Wahlberg) and his racing buds through the near-entirety over some long-arse trek? In my heart I can't be certain but as they say in Hollywood, "it's only a movie", give in to the hokiest of navigation and the sentimental goo. 

Made on a smaller budget but you wouldn't know it (the lush locales of the Dominican Republic go a long way on $19 million dollars) and shot MTV-style but you won't really mind it (I wanted to yell "extreme!!" at the screen, for reals), Arthur the King hits the ground running as it packs an emotional wallop (pun intended). 

Cinematic manipulation and tear duct exploiting aside, "King" is uplifting, on edge, and gladdening, shot and edited lightening-quick by Brit director Simon Cellan Jones (The One and Only, Some Voices). This film is part human drama, part American Flyers fluff, part Road Rules ruckus, and mostly down at heel canine. "King" of arms. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, April 1, 2024

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago 2016 * * * Stars


Letting you know there's a sort of bitterness between members of a certain rock band, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is an exhaustive and extensive documentary about those guys with guitars and horns that have managed to exist almost 50 years via the entertainment biz. Clocking in at nearly two hours, "Now More Than Ever" takes Chicago's Behind the Music stint and stretches it out like crosslinked rubber. We're talking Behind the Music on steroids here, with profundity in tone, newfangled insight, and raw plain-speaking. "We were able to pretty much do as we wanted". Heck, with hits like "Beginnings", "Just You 'n' Me", and "Make Me Smile", why not.  

Distributed by CNN (yes that CNN) and using sands in the hourglass clips as a sort of metaphor, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago goes the standard docu route in terms of its sequential structure. It's basically interview cut to archive cut to interview cut to archive cut to occasional hourglass. Lather, rinse, rinse, repeat. "Now More Than Ever's" director (Peter Pardini), well he may meander with his style as he milks the near-lifetime history of Chicago for 113 minutes, all the way down to its nub. Oh well. As the viewer you're sucked in anyway, and as a huge fan of the band whose early stuff was the legend of my childhood, all I got to say is, "can you dig it? (yes I can)." Natch.

Having a kind of chip on its shoulder in terms of the interviewees giving the knock back to former Chicago brethren like Peter Cetera, Danny Seraphine, and Bill Champlin (was this really necessary?), Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is not a perfect, factual transmission by any means. However, it does provide that unfeigned fix and evocative diversion for uber-Chicago junkies like myself. Made "history". 

Written by Jesse Burleson